Author credits: ‘Carolee Chanona for Caribbean Culture + Lifestyle‘
It’s true: few places in Belize are as wild or dramatic as the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. It stretches for an epic 300,000 acres from the highlands of western Belize and races all the way up to the neighboring Sibun Forest Reserve. Within, there are countless riverine-carved plunge pools with no other swimmers in sight, brick-red pathways of hiking trails galore, and a handful of Belize’s best eco-lodges. On any one day, you can chase the second largest waterfall in Central America, spot a Puma, and adventure in pursuit of high-elevation species, like the endangered Orange-breasted Falcon. Do it all from Hidden Valley Inn and Reserve, an intimate enclave of just 12 luxury cottages surrounded by 7,200 acres of wilderness and abundant personal attention on its private estate.
A feeling of space
Belize’s vastly contrasting innermost landscape, wedged by the Caribbean Sea as the doorstep to the Western Caribbean, lends itself to long, windy journeys which can be as joyful as the destination itself.
Take the remote yet plush Hidden Valley Inn—found about 7 miles in from the Forestry Checkpoint at the entrance of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. And trust me, the location is impressive, as are its eco-inspired adventures which make the effort to reach it worthwhile. The drive from the international airport is a part of the adventure, including the off-road and its jolt-worthy dirt tracks for the dramatic landscapes inside the reserve. Once off, you step into a smart lodge whose wild isolation feels otherworldly, yet romantically all yours.
Although, a lack of crowds is not unusual in Belize. That only adds to the allure of the lowest population density in Central America and social distancing by nature in its national parks. Hidden Valley Inn is but one example: an eco-lodge built deep in its flourishing nature reserve.
There’s intermittent phone service (but reliable WiFi at will), no in-room TVs, and no, not even air conditioning, but there’s simple pleasures; like standalone bathtubs, a stone terrace-framed pool, and even the Nikte’ Ha Spa, with services offered à la carte. And in case you were wondering, you won’t miss the AC: the reserve’s high elevation and crisp mountain air boasts the lowest temps in the country, year-round.
Find peace doing outdoor yoga or going on guided nature walks into the surrounding pine forests, usually accompanied by the thrum of hummingbirds. Over 90 miles of trails lead to verdant ravines and breathtaking vistas, including at least five waterfalls on property. And because those waterfalls are accessible only through Hidden Valley Inn, they’re entirely exclusive to guests.
The best-known waterfall is Butterfly Falls, plunging 80 feet from the crest into a crystal-clear basin. A short hike from the nearest car park means you’re only 20-minutes away from one of most sought after hidden gems in the Mountain Pine Ridge. It’s breathtaking in more ways than one but the consolation prize is priceless, however: a waterfall named after the largest butterfly in the world, dotted with lush bromeliads and blooming wild orchids.
Lush lodgings on-site
Hidden Valley Inn could be called a destination within a destination…within a destination. Of all of Western Belize’s wild spaces, this is the most unexpected, shimmering oasis in the heart of pure greenery. Where adventure beckons at your doorstep within its 7,200 acres—that you’re free to explore on your own, equipped with lodge-provided site maps and walkie-talkies—and unhampered, simplistic relaxation awaits in your private cottage.
Guest rooms are cozy thanks to plenty of warm wooden notes, with central stone hearths even acting as conversational pieces. “A fireplace? In the Caribbean?” Believe me: temperatures drop into the low 40s around Christmas time, and average 70 Fahrenheit at night even in the heat of summer.
Staff float around the main lounge for a true one-on-one personal service; the dining lounge is wonderfully romantic, with mirrored niches to reflect the candlelight; and the area’s positively lush landscapes offer plenty to entice nature-lovers to linger and explore.